This week is Fredericksburg’s restaurant week, and for this week’s blog, we thought we would cover the topic of bringing your own wine to a restaurant. There are definitely a few restaurants out there that do not have liquor licenses, and if you want wine, you will have to bring your own bottle with you. The majority of restaurants do have liquor licenses, and have a wine list with bottles available for purchase by their guests.
City Vino has negotiated corking fees with a hand full of restaurants in walking distance of the shop. Not all restaurants will allow you to bring your own wine, so it is best to inquire before you arrive.
Allowing customers to bring their own wine into a restaurant is a courtesy provided by the establishment itself. When doing so, most restaurants will charge a fee for that courtesy, called the “corkage fee.” The fee can range from $10 to $100 or more, depending on the restaurant. The fee covers the wine serving costs, as they provide glasses, a server to open and pour the wine, disposal of the bottle, glasses to be washed, and a bucket of ice, where appropriate.
A general thought when bringing your own bottle from home is that it should be a wine that is not on the restaurant’s menu. Bring that special bottle that you’ve put away for a special occasion, like a birth year or a wedding year wine.
Wine prices are marked up, and a bottle that you paid $40 for at the wine shop may be $95 on the menu. While that might seem like a high mark-up, it isn’t really, when you consider the owner, sommelier or wine director’s time tasting through wines to cultivate their wine list, placing orders for the wine with the distributors, receiving the wine, uncrating or unboxing it and putting it in its temperature-controlled cellar, updating the wine menu to include the wine, and taking time to teach the servers about the wine. Wine will often sit in cellars for a while before sold, and remember, there is no profit made when it sits.
Corkage fees are usually per-bottle. Sometimes a restaurant may be kind and waive the fee, if you purchase a bottle or two off their wine list, but it is at the discretion of the restaurant whether or not to do that. If the bottle is an unusual or rare bottle, consider providing the sommelier and server a taste of the wine. I did this at a restaurant in a beach community that had a very small, non-adventurous wine list full of mass market wines. I requested an extra glass, and poured about half a glass and asked the server to share with coworkers, since it was a wine they probably wouldn’t ever have at the restaurant. Not only did the corkage fee get waived—which I didn’t expect—but a few of the staff came out of the back to say thank you, and that it was the best wine they had ever tried.
Some common etiquette tips when you bring your own wine may include things like making sure you know what the restaurant policy on corkage is in advance, so there are no surprises or awkward moments; make sure the cost of your wine is more than the corkage fee; bring the wine in a tote, rather than a brown paper bag; and consider buying a bottle off their list too.